Bedtimes this week have been a bit rough for the Gigglemonster. And by “a bit” I mean I got about 4 hours of sleep last night, most in 30-40 minute snatches, and most with his wriggling body within kicking distance of my abdomen.
I am well aware that this last confession could theoretically spark a heated cyber-debate about various child-rearing theories related to co-sleeping, but frankly I’m too tired to deal with that (4 hours, people!). Besides, I learned absolutely nothing relevant to those debates last night, other than the fact that something written in a book (or on a blog) is completely irrelevant at 4 am when your son is hysterical.
The precise cause of the hysteria is not entirely clear. It could be the fact that Daddy has been gone all week, travelling for work, which always throws off the family balance in palpable ways. It could be that the baseboard heating in our new-to-him house makes weird creaking noises which alarmingly mimic the sounds of stealthy footsteps in the hall. It could be that my sometimes helicopter tendencies have nevertheless been unable to shelter him from the myriad images and messages of danger that pollute both the natural and social worlds. It could just be another symptom of the generalized anxiety he has been feeling ever since we landed Stateside and he finally understood what all of our talk about “moving” actually meant.
Whatever the reason, the hysteria is real. It just is. Sure, he also really likes sleeping cuddled up next to Mommy, and he’s angling for every Daddy-absent opportunity to do this, but the hysteria is also real. When he awakens after a nightmare in the cold, dark, loneliness of night, fear clamps his little body and mind in a vice grip that is beyond my power to break, short of replacing its hands with my own. All he can process — all he can take in or spew out — is the intense, driving need to be near me. Because, by the mingled miracle and curse that comes from being Mommy, in my little boy’s eyes I am safety and comfort and peace.
I really can’t speak with any moral authority on the co-sleeping debate. However, this week’s palpable, messy, painful, exhausting battle with my son’s clinging fear has nevertheless taught me something. It has left me bruised, and snappy, and much less the perfect-mother that I want to be, but it has taught me something all the same.
It has reminded me of the power of need. Need, intense, driving need can focus our attention and open us up to having that need met. Need is the polar opposite of apathy. So tonight, I am inspired to need.
I hope what I mean by that is evident in the poem my son’s night-time drama has provoked.
Like a child waking from a nightmare
“Please come. Please! I need you!”
“The darkness is too big and strong.
I am so small and weak.
And I can’t make the monsters go away.
“I’m frightened by the noises I don’t understand.
My own imagination is my enemy,
conjuring phantasms of fear and doubt.
“What if something comes that I cannot fight?
What if I am swallowed up?
What if you don’t hear my call until it is too late?
“I NEED YOU HERE!
I need your arms to shelter in – they are so strong.
I need your voice to soothe away the nightly noises.
I need your body close enough to taste – it is so real.
As real as wine and bread that brings new life.
The monsters too will fear if you’re my sheltering wall,
my cave to hide inside until the daylight breaks night’s deadly spell.
Your presence here will cast out fear with love,
the love of light and warmth and heart whose rhythm fills my ear.
But when the fear subsides and rhythm moves
my feet to dance away from sheltering arms,
don’t let me lose this need, this desperate need
to call my Comforter with childlike faith.